Imatron, a pioneer in ultrafast computed tomography scanning,
signed on Siemens as a product development and marketing partner
The Siemens relationship involves future CT products and will
not impact Imatron's distribution contracts with Picker International
in North America, Italimprese in Europe and Mitsui in Japan. Imatron
hopes, however, that Siemens' marketing strength will help the
small R&D firm pull out of its continuing losses, according
to Douglas P. Boyd, chairman.
Siemens expects the relationship with Imatron to help improve
its high-end CT technology, said Peter H. Grassmann, head of Siemens'
worldwide Imaging Systems division. The German company was the
first multimodality medical imaging vendor to introduce a spiral
(or helical) CT product of its own last year.
Helical scanning makes use of continuously rotating slip-ring
CT technology to rapidly scan along the length of a patient rather
than imaging slices step by step. While Siemens and other vendors
have adapted helical scanning to standard CT systems, Imatron
uses a unique electron-beam scanning system.
This technology has not been fully accepted by the clinical
community, however. There are 40 Imatron ultrafast CT systems
installed worldwide, but the firm had to trim prices to achieve
Picker, a major medical imaging vendor enlisted as a distributor
in the U.S. two and a half years ago (SCAN 8/31/88), has had to
sell the Imatron system at a heavy discount. Little emphasis is
placed on marketing a product that is sold at a loss, Boyd noted.
"We have seen a strong market for our product in Japan.
One of the reasons for this is that the scanner sells for $2 million.
Users in the U.S. have been buying the scanner for $1.4 million
to $1.5 million, and there has not been money in the budget for
marketing," he said.
Although 25 Imatron scanners are installed in the U.S. versus
12 in Japan, Imatron sold more scanners last year in Japan than
in its home market, Boyd said.
"With expanded resources from more than one company, we
hope to have more support in the marketing area. If our story
gets out to a wider audience, sales should pick up quite a bit,"
Medical imaging vendors are beginning to invest more resources
in the development of CT, which was once thought to be destined
for extinction under the competitive pressure of magnetic resonance
imaging. But advances in CT technology and widespread use of contrast
imaging are opening up new applications for the modality, he said.
"Coronary screening, for instance, is a fast emerging
application that is not only diagnostic but also the key to successful
treatment of cardiac disease," Boyd said.
A major advantage of helical CT scanning is that it improves
the performance of contrast imaging. "The faster you can
do the complete examinations, the more benefits you can get from
the contrast media," he said.
Helical scanning also allows for single-breath-hold lung studies,
said Gerald D. Daviess, CT business unit manager for Toshiba
America Medical Systems. Helical CT scanners can image the average
300-mm length of the lung in a single 10-second sweep, he said
Toshiba plans to introduce helical scanning on its high-end
900S CT scanner in June. The option will add about $100,000 to
the system price, Daviess said.
Step-by-step scanning was implemented in CT because of the
technological difficulties involved with continuous rotation.
As these difficulties are overcome, helical scanning should become
the norm rather than the exception in CT imaging, he said.
"I don't see it (helical CT) as a niche product, but as
the way CT is going to evolve," Daviess said.